Elle Muliarchyk. I just have to start off with the name. It’s always super dramatic. So, not unlike most inspirational or important people, there seems to be quite a shortage of info on you. All I gather is the usual stuff, like you’re an insane rogue who bursts into high fashion boutiques to take guerrilla style photos of you in expensive clothing. Wolf in sheep’s clothes, perhaps? Well whatever you do, I’m in bloody love with it. Especially the cat picture. But we’ll get to that later. Basically, you flash a smile at the clerk of an extremely high fashion boutique, (say Tom Ford, Gucci etc.) take some outrageously expensive gown, and lock yourself in a dressing room for a certain amount of time before you are arrested, mobbed, or just plain told to get the heck out of the store. Kudos Elle. You’ve really worked up a reputation. And now you’ve got a new project in the works called Begotten, and only we have Elle’s exclusive first thoughts to these exclusive first questions. [Edit: Interview Two contains more info on the Begotten project]. So let’s get a feel for Elle Muliarchyk.
Trey Taylor: Can you please fill this out?
Name: Elle Muliarchyk
Occupation: They call it “artist”
Currently Resides: New York
Favourite Song: Right now — Pack with Cigarettes
It’s by a USSR 80’s singer - Victor Tsoy. He was the biggest cult, like the Doors, and he died tragically when he was young. I was too young to appreciate the craze then but now I’m revisiting it. The cheesiest sound (music wise), like Britney Spears + the most gorgeous voice. I think that Centaurs have these voices. The song says “As long as there is a pack of cigarettes in my pocket everything will be alright, at least for today”.
Trey Taylor: Now, I hate to do this, but I must ask for a bit of your history, so people know what’s been going on for the majority of your time on earth.
Elle Muliarchyk: Born in Belarus, grew up in Vietnam. My parents were diplomats, so it was a fun childhood. The first thing I had to do there was eating money’s brain. Our spiritual teacher in Vietnam was Dali Lama’s former student - and a biotechnolgist! so I learned a lot of magic and science from him. Then Prague, the greatest place to be a Punk Lolita, I was a disco queen, and had to constantly resist Sex predators who were very “fashionable” and populous in Prague at that time. Came to California at around 15. There my adventures include living with a Chinese new born Christian family and then with a Mormon family. In pursuit of Supermodel-dom I finally came to NYC and, as the legend goes, was discovered by Patrick Demarchelier. Then follows a relatively predictable modeling career, and finally art career - when I return into exciting world of getting mugged, arrested etc etc.
TT: Basically, you didn’t like how you had no creative control being a model. You were always told to move left, hold the pose, flip your hair. I bet it got tiring. So you broke all ties with the fashion industry and essentially decided that you were going to pursue a career in guerrilla fashion photography?
EM: Oh no - I didn’t break the ties, I just took on a secret identity. And I would switch it whenever it suits me, kinda like Superman.
TT: It’s probably no surprise that what you do is really intriguing. Are you still shooting and exhibiting your work? Or have you settled in your ways and jobs come to you?
EM: I initiate 99% of my projects. But each of them takes 200% of me. I sleep no more than 4 hours a day, making my research, but even in my sleep I’m haunted by it. When I get involved into a project I become IT. Like when actors have to become that character.
When I did a shoot involving Jelly Fish (my first real Fashion shoot - when I photographed supermodel Magdalena) I spent 3 months visiting all the aquariums and several Marine Biology Societies in the US.
When Bella Freud - (Sigmund Freud’s great grand daughter) asked me to invent, shoot (and model) her campaign The Journey To the End Of The Night, I led a nocturnal life like those cats in the photo you like! For about 6 months I completely switched day for night. I went out every night, all by myself, with my tripod and a bag of Bella’s clothing, and took those self portraits using only available light - like street lamps. I shot in England (where I got mugged by the gang of 8 people, and a week later witnessed a robbery and was chased by one of London’s motorcycle gangs who break into fashion boutiques at nights). I also shot in New York and California ( I had to escape a wild horse in the open field where I was shooting using only the light of Full Moon.) The pictures were really magical- it was all worth it! I’m very proud of them.
Or for Begotten I turned into the most dedicated religious fanatic (for the time being), For the past year I’ve scouted in 400 churches, and worked there, like cleaning the curches and feeding the homeless, to achieve my purpose. I took classes about Catholicism and Medieval history, and I am even considering a young priest’s invitation to make a car journey on the West Coast!
TT: When you were young, were you always the leader type? The one with the bright idea?
EM: Hmm, I think I was a nerd until I was 10 and then my life got crazy. But I rather skip this question because I’d have to reveal my early tendencies of a madman and it’s not good press for when I start applying for my green card!
TT: I like how unconventional you are. I couldn’t imagine leaving a, and I’ll exaggerate a bit here, “safe” position as a model to be a modelographer (model slash photographer) on your own. Were you ever scared about the decision? Have any regrets?
EM: Hm… It’s sounds cliche, but I’m not scared of anything really. (I also have a double life line on my hand, an old gypsy told me that when I was very young, and since then I feel like a Superhero somehow…:-). But yes, things changed. I have a feeling that some photographers that I’ve dreamed of being photographed by as a model, and who are my friends, don’t want to photograph me now… Weird. I guess it makes them feel… incestuous? Or they also say - a shoemaker’s son is always barefoot. But I don’t have regrets. If I want to model again I can just change my hair color and name and say I am Elle Muliarchyk’s lost twin sister, just arrived from Belarus… I will become the hottest new merchandise! …..Ooops, I spoiled my secret plan!
(but seriously - many models I know (especially from Brazil) have their sisters appear on the scene a few years later, that look so much like them!)
TT: I really want to touch on this for a second, because people need to hear it. Your pictures are gorgeous, obviously. And the camera you use is tiny. People often equate good quality photography with a good quality camera, but that is definitely not always the case. I’ll just throw this in here because I heard it once and it’s worth a repeat. If you go to a restaurant, and the food they serve is delectable beyond belief, you wouldn’t ask the chef what kind of pots and pans he uses, am I right? So please Elle, clear this up for us. What kind of camera do you use and why do you feel that it isn’t the camera that creates such amazing photography?
EM: A very good question! I also want to clarify it for the “people”. I was just reading comments about my Bella Freud images on Fashion TV video on youtube. And people say - “who’s she kidding- these images are not real”. They ARE real. I also keep all of my favorite images on my camera - to show people raw files - to prove that they are not retouched! If I analyze my own work, the secret is very simple. One is shooting at night. Often it’s so dark that I barely see anything with my own eyes! I make very long exposure and often find out what the picture looks like only AFTER I take it. It’s like the recent exhibition on Van Gogh at the MET - The colors of the night. He loved the night and felt it was much richer with textures and colors. Second secret is composition. I’ve looked at so much classical art when I was young, that now I somehow crystallized this formula in my head, which I can’t explain, but I can create it instinctively within a frame. I never crop my images. And when I shoot in a brightly light environment I also work with composition, combining stillness and movement. I use Canon G10 now, and before I used Lumix DX2.
TT: Do you do exhibitions of your work?
EM: Of course. The last one was at Milk Gallery in New York for Begotten, The Saints were life-size, in a very dark room, with spot lights on them. It was like coming into a mysterious church! The ones before include Spring Projects Gallery in London, Bella Freud’s at Freeze Art Fair, Carousel De Louvre etc etc. Supposedly many famous people come to the openings, but I never recognize them, and only find out the next day on the Internet! :-)
I don’t like having exhibitions though. In New York it’s more like people standing around with beers and networking, they often don’t know what the show is about. I mean - when it’s “opening night” in Chelsea one may see works of a hundred artists in one evening! And the work that an artist may have put all of their soul/life into becomes a wallpaper in the wall - when it’s out of context. I actually love seeing my photographs on the computer screen, or even when I show it to my friends on the back of my digital camera - a 2.5” screen. Then I can tell stories about each of the images - like an old school, portable slide show, one at a time. I know that in the art world the true way to make money out of your photograph is a print or when it’s published on paper. Then it becomes an object that has monetary value. But I actually hate seeing my pictures on paper. It becomes dead and perishable. I don’t even tell my family to come to my exhibitions. On the other hand I feel that when my photograph is “digitized” - made out of 0’s and 1’s, it becomes what it was in the beginning - light entering your retina and then your brain and turning into information. It becomes free and timeless.
TT: What are your five favorite songs at the moment?
EM: Ahh, lately I just download books on my Ipod. especially very long ones, too heavy to carry in my bag. Or radio shows from NPR, I told you - I’m a nerd. When I don’t cram my brain with information, which is usually running on the treadmill - I plug into Family Guy, or some garbage - like Bravo, TMZ… You know - to stay informed on what the Young people out there are up to. :-)
But looking back to the songs that I loved - they are usually connected to a time when I am in love myself. Here they are:
1. Anthony and the Johnsons - You are my sister
2. Love - Everybody’s gotta give
3. The Doors - Do you love her when she’s walking out of the door
4. The Smiths - Please, please, please, Let Me Get What I Want
5. The Pierces - Go To Heaven and Lights On
TT: What do you know?
EM: The truth is I have to paraphrase and personalize Socrates - I know that I don’t know anything- about what I really wanna do, what will I make out of my life… It’s scary sometimes. But I’m trying to find it out! Thanks so much. You have true talent and that is to be admired. It takes courage to do what you do and I want people to recognize that. You’re great. I hope to meet one day. g